Odometer fraud, when a seller rolls back the odometer of a vehicle to show fewer miles when it’s sold, was once a common problem. According to CARFAX, a vehicle data service, it still is.
That may take some consumers by surprise since most late model cars and trucks have digital odometers. The belief is that it’s not like the old days when an unscrupulous seller might use a bent coat hanger to physically turn back an analog odometer.
CARFAX claims the problem has actually gotten worse. Its data suggests there are more than 1.8 million vehicles on the road right now showing the incorrect mileage, a 13 percent increase over this time in 2019.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned consumers that an estimated 450,000 cars and trucks are sold every year with false odometer readings. Consumers who purchase one of these vehicles will overpay since a vehicle’s value is largely determined by its mileage.
Surprise repair bills
Not only do they overpay, but they may also be presented with unexpected repair bills since the vehicle has been driven more than the buyer expected, increasing wear and tear.
Renee Chance, a consumer in Oregon, purchased a used vehicle showing 80,000 miles on its digital odometer. She said it never entered her mind that it might have been set back until she purchased a CARFAX report on her vehicle.
“I have spent $1,000 trying to make the car trustworthy, and it still is not,” she said. “Now the car needs an $1,800 repair. In addition, I overpaid $1,000 because of the odometer reading. I am a pretty savvy car buyer and have never had this happen before."
Automotive experts say that in some ways odometer fraud is even easier to pull off today, assuming you have the right tools. The miles can be rolled back by removing the vehicle’s circuit board to enter a new number. Fraudsters also have equipment that connects directly to the vehicle’s electronics.
That’s one reason why odometer fraud appears to be on the rise. CARFAX says the most populous states have the biggest problem. Texas leads the way with a 31 percent increase over 2019.
A careful visual inspection of the vehicle, inside and out, may provide some clues about its actual mileage. A vehicle with 40,000 miles on the odometer and considerable wear and tear may have closer to 140,000 actual miles.
An inspection of maintenance records is also telling since service records always list the current mileage when the work is performed. That’s where a CARFAX vehicle report could come in handy if the seller doesn’t offer service records.
CARFAX provides a free online portal where you can check a vehicle’s VIN to see if it has ever been reported for odometer fraud.